Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best of 2011!

As we rapidly approach the end of the year, I'm pretty proud of myself for actually sticking with this blog and sharing a whole bunch of random opinions with the few dozen of you who have kept checking in. Thanks for that! I had three goals when I started: get 10 loyal readers, get free tickets to at least one show, and actually get through the year. Done, done, close!

So while I still have two shows to write up and, who knows, could still see things next week (Porgy and Bess, anyone?), I'm ready to look back at the 114 shows I saw this year (yeah...114. christ.) and offer up my own list of my ten favorite shows and ten performances. Because you know what I love almost as much as live theater? LISTS!

Looking over everything I saw, I realize I attended shows in hotel rooms, converted warehouses, an abandoned church, an old town house, and a few basements. I saw a disconcertingly large number of actors naked (Burning and Hair alone pushed the number past 25, but there seemed to be an extra lot of nudity elsewhere this year as well). I railed against things everyone else loved (War Horse) and advocated for things people thought were abysmal (The People in the Picture). Mostly, though, I just had a ton of fun.

So without further ado...

My ten favorite shows:


The reviews of this show weren't across the board raves: proof that people who aren't me are idiots. On the plus side, it's transferring to Broadway in the new year, so a) I can see it again and b) critics will have a chance to realize that they missed out on the strongest new musical of the year, if not the past few years. And no, I'm not forgetting The Book of Mormon (see a teeny bit below). You can argue that the show is overly sentimental, but you'd be missing the point. It is disarmingly earnest and hopelessly romantic--two things that usually make my teeth itch--but the beauty of the production is that the reality of life is always lurking in the background reminding us how ephemeral the central romance is. With some of the most beautiful simple stagecraft I've ever seen and one of the strongest ensembles around, I found it impossible not to be won over.

born bad

If Once made me cry at the capacity of goodness in many people, born bad shattered me with our potential for hideousness. With its fractured dialogue holding us at remove from the start, the play reveals itself in fits and starts as the story of one woman whose pleas to her family to listen to her experience being sexually abused by her father fall on deaf ears. Without ever actually speaking of what happened, Dawta rages against her family only to be met by denial, anger, and avoidance. Running less than an hour, it was one of the shortest plays I saw this year, but it was also the most impactful.

The Book of Mormon

I mean...listen, what am I going to say that hasn't been said? It's sold out until doomsday, won every award known to man, and was greeted with rave reviews across the board. Why? Because it's seriously fucking funny. But beyond that because it actually has a beating heart, tells a real story, and is strangely relatable. This is the show that every Fringe Festival jokey musical wants to be. None of them can touch it. I've seen it three times and will head back next time I can score tickets. So...maybe for my 50th birthday?

Sons of the Prophet

Here's something I'm noticing: my top choices were mostly shows that made me laugh really, really hard or cry real tears. This did the former and had me on the verge of the latter. It was the year's funniest tragedy--an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink play that piled woe upon woe on its main character but never missed a laugh, it somehow also never cheapened itself or its characters. It's a high-wire act of writing, and I still don't know how it managed not to fall off the edge. It didn't hurt that it was so precisely directed and given life by a brilliant team of actors.

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

One man surrounded by audience on all four sides, detailing the treasure trove of thousands of suicide letters he found in the attic of a house he was considering buying, this was another amazing feat of writing and imagination, brought to life by its nerdy, lovable creator Daniel Kitson. The whole story may have been made up, but that didn't make it feel any less honest. Kitson is stateside again in the new year with another one man show. You can bet I already have tickets.

Black Watch

In the "you never know" category, I avoided this history of a platoon of the Scottish army the first two times it came through New York. And even halfway through the experience of watching it, I remained on the fence, wondering if it was glamorizing the armed forces, whether the construction by way of interview snippets leading in and out of flashbacks was lazy technique, and whether it really had anything all that interesting to say. And then a small voice in the back of my head told me to shut up and just watch. I fell further and further into the entire production and by the heartstopping wordless finale, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I was actually trembling. Without Stephen Hoggett's unreal movement design, the show might not be the dazzler it is. It should be mentioned that Hoggett also did the musical staging of Once. And that he might be a genius.


I swear I'm not just including this because it got me a ton of blog hits when I was linked to random Randy Harrison fan pages. Hey again, Queer as Folk fans! If all I was doing was pandering, I'd just name the show that got me the most Google hits at all this year: The Motherfucker with the Hat. And I'm just not that desperate for attention! I kid, I kid. For real, though, this was five people in chairs hamming it up as they performed the script of Black Swan. Jenn Harris is simply the funniest chick in the game, and she and her friends dazzled with a camp fantasia. Sure, it was slight. But it was also the hardest I laughed all year.


It's fucking Sondheim. Did you think I wouldn't include it here? Now, I may only have seen it three times (so far!), but I'll certainly be back before it closes next month. Because let's be real: there isn't a better score on Broadway right now. I know a lot of people have their quibbles with this production, but Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Terri White, Rosalind Elias, Jayne Houdyshell, Elaine Paige...the amount of talent and theater history on that stage combined with the stunning music make it essential.

Hello Again

I was about to say this was the most divisive show on my list, but then I looked at what I have down for number 10. We'll get there. Meanwhile, I know some folks didn't buy the environmental staging which, let's face it, was pretty hokey. And the sound design was wonky, and yes it's ANOTHER show based on La Ronde. But you know what? I fell head over heels for the score, loved the intimacy of the entire production, and thought that while it was easily the most cynical show about relationships I saw this year, it was also the sexiest.

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

So here's a show that some people HATED. To me, this is the show that crazy ass play Burning thought it was being. Deliberately awkward, highly stylized, and just really, really weird, it approached the story of a possibly insane man deciding to make his three musically challenged daughters into a girl group by giving us hints of how each character saw things, abstracting all of it, and slamming it together in a wistfully atonal mishmash that refused to outright moralize. It rewarded the audience that stayed on its toes and approached it on its own level.

And my ten favorite performances:

Stockard Channing as Polly in Other Desert Cities

I had so much trouble with this show Off-Broadway but really came around to it when it transferred thanks in large part to Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light as the new cast members. But this isn't about them. Its about Stockard Channing as the ice-cold mother of an upper-upper-class Palm Springs family. Her repeated refrain, "I know who I am," begins as a frightening peek behind the curtain of a woman capable of threatening to cut off her own child before ultimately revealing itself to be more of a warrior cry. She does know who she is, and that's something she must desperately cling to since almost no one else around her is let in on her secrets. It is a truly great performance and while there's a possibility that she isn't my true number one (see below) the distance between the two is a hair's breadth.

The cast of born bad

Yes, it's a cheat to include an entire cast, but if I didn't, there'd be so little room for everyone else! Heather Alicia Simms was raw with rage as Dawta. Crystal Dickinson was horrifyingly relateable as the sister who chose to deny what was going on. Quincy Tyler Bernstine (always brilliant) was hauntingly elusive as the sister whose spotty memory may or may not have been a choice. Michael Rogers' mostly wordless role as the abusive father showed just how huge a presence an actor can be even at their most still and silent. LeRoy James McClain was heartbreaking as the brother who eventually breaks the family secrets wide open. And the look on Elain Graham's face as a mother finally coming to terms with the truth of her past was the single most haunting image of the entire year. It is to her credit that I can't shake the image, even if I may want to. In a year of strong ensembles (Black Watch, Book of Mormon, Sons of the Prophet, Once, etc.), no other cast moved together as flawlessly as this one.

Mary Louise Wilson as Vera in 4,000 Miles

One of the great ladies of the theater, Wilson played a nonagenarian whose 21-year-old grandson arrives on her doorstep having biked his way across the country. She offered an extraordinary portrait of a woman frustrated by her diminished faculties who finds it incredibly difficult to understand her emotionally brittle grandson but whose compassion is never diminished. A beautiful, honest portrayal of elderly life that never relied on cheap sentiment or easy humor.

Mark Rylance as Rooster in Jerusalem

One of the two showiest performances on my list, Rylance's portrayal of a hard-partying older traveler surrounded by young people, refusing to grow up, and clutching tight to the loose joys of childhood was big and wild enough to carry Jez Butterworth's depiction of small events rendered nearly mythical in scale. This is a man who I think would be more than happy to literally chew the stage, but the mania and energy and feeling of unpredictability are all the more impressive when quieter moments occur and you realize just how carefully calibrated the performance was for all three hours of the show

Lucy Taylor as Brett in The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

Hemingway's drunken sex bomb tease would be so easy to play as a simple slut, but Taylor's Brett perfectly captured the depression and loneliness fueling her escapades. It was terribly simple to see why so many would fall in love with her, even knowing that she was destined to let them down. A natural born heartbreaker rendered with immense empathy.

Linda Lavin as Rita in The Lyons

Joining Rylance in the "Hey, look at me, I'm acting!" club, the ever-delightful Linda Lavin didn't steal this show from the rest of her cast. She simply refused to let anyone else ever come close to possessing it. Great this year in Other Desert Cities Off-Broadway and Follies in DC, she skipped both of those transfers to Broadway for this small Off-Broadway show, and it was easy to see why. The disgruntled Jewish mother has been seen before, but Lavin played her like a sitcom dream and looked to be having more fun than anyone else on stage this year.

Danny Burstein as Buddy in Follies

In such a diva-heavy show, it's surprising to me that my favorite performance came from one of the male actors, but Burstein is so sad and so lovable as the shat-upon husband of Bernadette Peters' potentially crazy Sally. Burstein's second act opener, "The Right Girl," is a highlight of the entire show, the character's entire story of vacillation between love and disappointment rendered in miniature. More than anyone else for me, he nailed the balance between good humor and real sadness that the show needs to be its best.

Annaleigh Ashford as Maureen in Rent

I did not love the off-Broadway revival of Rent. It's a show that meant a lot to me as a teenager and which I saw many, many times on Broadway. To bring it back so soon after the original closed, I was hoping that something amazing and new would be brought to the table. It wasn't. Except in the case of Annaleigh Ashford whose Maureen felt completely different from any other portrayals of the character I've seen but also completely fitting with the role as written. The production was vibrantly alive when she came on stage. If only the rest of the cast had gotten the memo that they needed to figure out their own way to play familiar characters.

Jenn Harris as Clarice in Silence! The Musical and Nina in SWAN!!!

There's a reason that Harris seems to star in shows that require exclamation points in their titles. She's too funny for vaguer punctuation. A spot-on mimic with perfect comedic timing and a sense of utter fearlessness, she is the only performer this year that I saw swallow a can of cold baked beans for a laugh. And if you don't respect that...I just don't know what to do for you.

Chris Perfetti as Charles in Sons of the Prophet

Almost anyone from this cast could have made it onto my top 10, but I'll give it to the new kid in town. In a supporting role, Perfetti shone as the gay younger brother in a family that can't manage to escape tragedy. Whether coming on to the football player who ran over his dad or trying to convince his brother that there's somehow a message for them from the afterlife, he stays grounded and real and very, very touching.

Bobby Steggert - A Minister's Wife

No one else liked this show as much as I did. A musical version of Shaw's Candida, I thought the show was delicate and lovely. And at its heart, Steggert played a lovelorn, naive young poet who believes himself to be terribly mature. A sophisticated portrayal of youthful innocence by one of my favorite current actors.

I started the blog this year with a list of my favorite performances of 2010 and named Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur as one of them. I'd actually give her the number one slot here, but I've rhapsodized about her enough!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Krapp's Last Tape

Okay, so I'm ending the year with a whimper. Seeing less shows, writing about them less frequently, so on and so forth. BUT GODDAMIT IT, I'M FINISHING THIS YEAR!



I saw John Hurt is Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape at BAM. I don't want to say it was blissful. I's Beckett. It was sad and thoughtful and funny and...lonely. Can a play be lonely? I would (now) argue: yes. One of the things I love most about live theater is the communal experience. You're in a room with tens, hundreds, or thousands of people all experiencing the same thing. There's something beautifully collective about it. Krapp's Last Tape sort of flips that feeling on its ear. Yes, I watched this in a space with about 1,000 people (give or take), but the takeaway really was...we were all there alone.

I remember reading this play in college and having not the slightest idea of what it was about. Either I was dumber in college than I am now or it just greatly benefits from being viewed as opposed to read. Or, frankly, both. Here's the snapshot: Krapp's having a birthday. As he does every year, he intends to record a tape detailing what he's done since his previous birthday. In the meantime, we listens to a tape from the past. On that recording, he discusses a fleeting moment of connection lying in a boat with a woman he (I believe) just slept with.

The end.

No, really...if you don't know it, that's all the play is about. Oh sure, there's a ten minute or so silent opening in which he mostly clowns around a bit and eats bananas. But most of the play's 50 minute running time is watching one man listen to recordings of himself. And if that doesn't sound dynamic, it may just be that you haven't seen John Hurt do it.

With his craggy face and thousand yard stare, he looks not so much old as worn. And the gravelly depths of his voice support the notion that it's not JUST age that's taking its toll. It's monotony and sadness and (most of all) loneliness.

Krapp's Last Tape, as I took it, is like a love letter to romance wrapped in a faux-existentialist presentation. It dares to ask us why we bother living while managing to answer that we probably do it for quiet moments on boats. For shimmering slivers of connection. I won't pretend it's optimistic about our chances of finding those things that truly matter. But perhaps it's simply a cautionary tale.

What I KNOW is that it was lovely. And that a dozen or so years after I read it, I'm glad to finally understand it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Catch Up!

This is so lame, but as I approach the end of the year and go into holiday hyperdrive, I just haven't had that much time to sit down and write (hence the two weeks silence). So I'm going to smash the last four things I saw into one post because there isn't a TON to say about the majority of them as it's some stuff I've seen before and some stuff I wasn't inspired by. Which is gonna make a fascinating read!

I WILL be back to individual posts for the last few shows of the year, and more excitingly (to me at least), I'm working on my Best of 2011 lists. I live for lists, so I'm terribly excited. Keep an eye out for that VERY soon.

So let's kick it off with a Rufus Wainwright concert for the New York City Opera. They're doing his opera in the Spring, so it's not as totally out of left field as it could have been. But the decision to have four pro opera singers perform his album "Songs for Lulu" as a song cycle yielded incredibly odd results. Not bad. But probably not good either.

The man himself took the stage in a second act and performed some of his bigger hits (such as they are) which really drove home how much his plaintive whine sells his songs. The opera singers weren't necessarily helped by the fact that his most recent album isn't his best work--convincing me that some people really just are more interesting before recovery.

All in all, it felt like half a night of the weirdest covers ever and half any average Rufus concert which I always love.

Speaking of unusual concerts: Liza Minnelli and Sam Harris joined forces at Birdland for Schmoolie and Minnooli, a delightful evening more for the banter and the strangeness than for the song choices themselves. (Mis)guided into thinking that going for some Borscht Belt style yuks was right in their comfort zone, the two sang and chatted about their long friendship and then took some solo moments in the spotlight.

I've never been the hugest Sam Harris fan. His voice is a little too crisp and his image a little too cookie cutter. Even when talking about drug binges and getting his life back on track, he has this vague blandness about him. Liza, of course, is Liza. Carried out by two buff men in tank tops with a bedazzled cast on because she broke her leg, she was as on as she was off. By which I mean, she's the sort of person who might stand up to emphasize a point in a song even when she's got a broken leg, but whether she'll remember the lyrics at that moment is questionable. Bottom line: I watched Liza from ten feet away in a tiny room, and she was a glorious mess. Sparkle, baby. Sparkle.

From concerts back to plays, I hit the revival of Private Lives with Kim Cattrall. And you know what? No more Noel Coward plays for me. I don't care how charming and witty I'm supposed to find him. His stuff bores me to tears. It didn't help that this production was pretty solidly one note, especially in the performances. And it certainly didn't help that Act 2 featured what I am nearly positive was the ugliest set I have ever seen on stage. It wasn't even just ugly. It was distractingly ugly. I spent a solid half of the play thinking, "Christ, who approved THAT aquarium" or "Why is this all happening in a circular apartment?" or "Why must they assault my eyes like this? Do they hate me?" (little bits of the set viewable in the photo above) Suffice to say: I don't recommend Private Lives. Which seems to be on point since it announced yesterday that it's closing early.

Lastly and most excitingly, I saw Venus in Fur again. I caught it Off-Broadway last year and just flipped for it. Not even for the play itself, though I do very much enjoy it, but for Nina Arianda's performance in it. This lady has gotten such a ridiculous amount of press for this part and the crazy thing is: she deserves ALL OF IT. Here's what I said about her in May: When I saw Nina Arianda in David Ives' Venus in Fur last year at the Classic Stage Company, I was convinced it was one of the best performances I had ever seen. Crazy, then, that it was also her first major production. If there is such a thing in the theater anymore, it felt like a star-making performance. With her striking features, biting humor, and capacity for stunning (but controlled) rage, she tore the stage up. You can throw any cliched adjective at the performance she gave: breathtaking, incandescent, stunning... Basically, she was fucking brilliant, and I couldn't rip my eyes away from her.

And that's all still true. She's now more happily matched by Hugh Dancy than she was by Wes Bentley although, to be honest, the male role is pretty much just set decoration. I love the play in spite of it being admittedly a bit thin and predictable, but it's incredibly dun nonetheless, and it's just the sort of performance you get to see maybe once or twice a year. And the sort of debut that you see maybe...once.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Once, A New Musical

Fuck it. I'm going out of order. I'm a few shows behind, but I'm going to jump to today's because I want to talk about it while it's still fresh. Not that I have any expectation that it's going to slip from my mind that soon. It's just that it was so, so good.

I didn't see the movie Once in the theater. For some reason I didn't expect to like it very much in spite of all the good buzz. But when I finally did see it, I thought it was a wonderful movie--warm and sweet and tender, if a little thin. I'm going to go ahead and say that the stage version is incredibly faithful to the movie, but if anything, the emotions have been refined and this boy meets girl story maintains the intimacy and realness of the movie while somehow blowing the emotions up bigger than life. It's really just a love story between two people and their music and how their love for each other may not be strong enough to overcome life's complications, but at the very least, it strengthens their songs.

As soon as you enter the theater, the bulk of the cast is already on the stage which is not only designed to look like a bar but is actually a fully functional one. Audience members are invited to head on stage and grab a drink before the show and during intermission. And the ten or so cast members up there perform music together, singing and playing their instruments straight through until ever so subtly, the show itself begins. Steve Kazee as the guy (the guy and girl aren't given names and somehow this doesn't feel gimmicky) performs a song as a busker. And then in a smoky mirror at the back of the stage, you catch sight of Cristin Milioti as the girl, awestruck in dusty lighting. I wish I could say why I teared up at that moment, but I can't quite place it. It's simply one of those rare moments when everything seems perfectly aligned--actor, set, lighting, song. And the simplicity of it combined with this beautiful, dreamlike transition to the world of the show is complete. So before the two leads in this everyday tragedy have spoken to each other, I was already misty. A feeling that didn't go away for the duration of the show.

Milioti and Kazee are fantastic. He plays the guitar; she the piano. Her accent is Czech; his is Irish. Between them, they carry the bulk of the show (the ensemble is brilliant, but the heavy lifting is all on the leads--a weight they bear with ease). But let's talk about that ensemble for a moment. The actors also handle the music and are the stagehands and are called upon to handle Steven Hoggett's astonishing choreographed movement. And while none has more than a couple scenes of their own, they register so fully from Anne Nathan as the girl's mother Baruska seeming sexy and matronly and a little devilish at the same time to Paul Whitty's brash, silly, overbearing, lovable shop owner and Elizabeth Davis as Reza, the sexy Czech girl who loves to seduce men, cares deeply about her friends and family, and is there for the people she loves.

Hoggett also choreographed Black Watch and American Idiot, and I've mentioned him with regard to those shows before. I'm starting to think he might be one of the most singular voices in theater today, putting a very modern dance style on stage while making it accessible to the audience and working with actors who aren't dancers. There's a stylized moment showing someone being folded into an embrace that I think might be the most beautiful three seconds I've ever seen on stage (I could be exaggerating, but I might actually not be).

Another moment turns the body of someone who has kneeled to cry into part of the cityscape of Dublin by way of a subtle and lovely use of lights. And that's the thing about this show: the whole is wonderful and tremendously moving, but there are these little tiny moments of stage magic that are so well in tune with the show itself that they bolster and deepen everything happening at the heart of the story with GUY and GIRL. Everything seems effortless only because you know there's a team of people behind the scenes and an ensemble on stage all working together perfectly, all on the same page. Whether it's a group a capella song or a few bars of transitional music, every note adds to the show even though the songs aren't actually integrated into the piece in a traditional way. This is a show about musicians, and the numbers performed are almost exclusively their own, just reinforced and expanded by this on stage band.

Every cynical shred of me thought that this could end up being just another cheap ploy to turn a movie into a musical in order to cash in on the film's popularity. Seeing it, you feel exactly how unlikely it is that anyone involved did this without the fullest and deepest commitment instead to putting together a show that honored and enriched the movie itself. Rumor has it that even though the show hasn't opened Off-Broadway yet, the producers are looking for a Broadway theater to transfer it. Everyone should root for it to happen. It's a bittersweet show of true beauty that is as near to perfect as these things can be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


As someone who works in publishing, the fact that there are so many plays lately about writing is not unwelcome to me. Other Desert Cities and Venus in Fur and now Seminar, Theresa Rebeck's somewhat thin but entirely delightful new comedy about a vicious writing instructor teaching a private workshop to four young writers.

Alan Rickman is that instructor, Leonard, and if seething with disgust and decimating writer after writer doesn't seem like a particularly huge stretch for him, that doesn't make him any less of a joy to watch, and some of his barbs are so incisive that they're squirm-inducing, all the more so because there is the sense throughout that while there is a lot of bluster (and a great deal of offensiveness), quite often he's very likely completely right.

And here comes the sort of giant caveat I feel like the show requires: you're asked to believe, repeatedly, that all it takes to judge someone's talent is skimming one or two pages of their work. While of course I don't want to just sit and watch people read for several hours, and while I can accept that you can know a lot about a writer from any sample of their work, the strain to push aside incredulity does become more intense throughout the show. There are other believability issues throughout as well, but when it comes down to it, the show is just fun enough that for me they were all worth overlooking.

Not only did it tickle me that essentially the play was a love letter to writers of true talent and passion (and a mourning for how difficult the road can be for them), but the show is so perfectly cast that it's a delight to simply sit back and watch a great group of actors tear into the material with so much glee. Lily Rabe is stupidly fantastic as the student hosting the seminar but also whose work is treated to the first and most vicious criticism. She is conflicted, brittle, and annoying as hell, but she's also sympathetic and believable. You can feel her playing against some of the most obvious choices, but not in a mannered way. It all feels so organic. Brilliantly so. Jerry O'Connell is making his Broadway debut, and he's suprisingly great. It feels like a throwaway part at first--the dopey, well-connected douchebag. But as things start to break down for his, a tenderness and affability snuck in and caught me off guard. And Hamish Linklater is Martin, the writer most reticent to share his work. It's almost a sneaky performance because while it seems like it might be Rickman's show or Rabe's for most of the time, in the end, it ends up that Linklater is really the one it all hangs on. Beautifully.

Ultimately, though, it's just a great ensemble in a great ensemble piece. It's got a real hint of the God of Carnage about it--a small group of great actors being vicious and funny in service of a show that's maybe not especially brilliant, but fuck it you're loving it anyway. And you know what? I'll take it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Animals You Should Know

I maybe wasn't suuuuuper excited to see a play about Boy Scouts and sexual abuse because, frankly, it's not the freshest topic. Molestation plays have not only been done. They've been done brilliantly: Doubt, anyone? How I Learned to Drive? What sets Wild Animals You Should Know apart, though, is that it's got a little bit more of a Lolita sensibility. The kid is definitely the pursuer. The counsellor is most resistant. But to hold onto Doubt for a second, like that play, we never know whether anything actually happened.

Sure, I can describe the play entirely in terms of how it relates to its predecessors, but there was a vague undercurrent of nastiness that kept it just fresh enough to be, if not necessary, at least entertaining. So lets just say it's the funniest molestation play you're likely to see?

Jay Armstrong Johnson plays the potential sociopath Matthew, and he's the kind of blandly good looking, sincerely charming guy that you can imagine would have been able to twist people around his finger in high school just as he does in the show. Believing that he's in high school now is slightly more challenging, but I guess casting 15 year olds as sexual aggressors whose first appearance on stage is doing a striptease to the Boy Scout motto is maybe potentially challenging. And can I take a moment to talk about how weird it is that the two biggest trends on stage this fall are plays about books and plays about teen boys having sex with adult men? well, this show is considerably more tasteful than Burning. AND less interesting. But...well, let's say that Burning might be the first show that gets a second post out of me, but that's for another time.

Meanwhile, Matthew's best friend is gay teen Jacob played to perfection by Gideon Glick who I think I've now seen in every major gig he's had. He was brilliant as the gay teen in Spring Awakening. And the gay teen in Speech and Debate. And even as the non-specifically gay teen in Spider-Man before his part was cut prior to opening. I will admit that with his strange voice and relative flamboyance, he's a specific enough performer that he will likely always be at risk of being typecast, but goddam he's good at what he does.

Matthew's mannered father, Patrick Breen, serves as a chaperone on a scouting trip along with the charming drunk Lenny. It's on this trip that Matthew confronts their scout counselor Gordon about the fact that he discovered that Gordon is gay and will out the counselor unless he admits that he finds Matthew attractive. It's an incredibly strange scene and it's here that things seem like they're really getting good because what the playwright does best is hint at the complexities and ambiguities of teendom. Sadly, he then shifts to focus on Matthew's father and the other counselor.

We come back to Matthew in the end and a really tantalizingly open to interpretation ending. Which is strong enough to send you out on a good note, not really knowing what happened, but with enough hints to be really curious about what did. And there's skill involved in that. If you're going to end on an ellipses, you need to give people enough to ponder so they aren't just unfulfilled and frustrated. And he did that. I just wish that when he did put periods on his sentences and scenes, they were just as satisfying.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway

Hugh Jackman's not really a great singer, and he's not really a fantastic dancer, so it's a little confusing that his show Back on Broadway is so stupidly fantastic. There's something about him that just gives him the ability to put material over even when it shouldn't work. A cheesy cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" set to images of the outback and with two didgeridoos should be saccharine enough to make my teeth itch. His sort of sexless sexiness is so bland that it shouldn't even register, but there's something appealing even in its crisp safeness. And while the show is just covers of stuff he's done before and tributes to the most obvious of notions (I love my wife, New York's awesome, my dad really loved me), it's all strangely, wonderfully compelling in his hands. He's like the world's most charming used salesman. He may not have anything great to sell, but you're not leaving the lot empty-handed.

And if that all sounds bitchy, I don't mean it to. Because truly, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, is a stupidly good time. Because no matter his specific limitations in particular areas, Jackman is a capital Entertainer. And his joy at bringing his audience along for the ride is, in fact, pretty infectious. He's got that sort of Tinkerbell/Lady Gaga I'll-live-if-you-applaud quality. Some of the show is obvious and silly, but at no point is the man coasting, and I respect the crap out of that.

The banter between the songs was up-to-the-minute fresh. Whether joking about Rick Perry's debate gaffe the night before, bringing out the four dancers having their first opening night on Broadway that night, or engaging a member of the audience in a genuinely amusing back and forth, Jackman was at his best on his toes. It's that charisma and relatable quality that set him apart.

There were musical highlights, certainly. I loved his version of "Tenterfield Saddler," and his "Soliloquy" from Carousel was the best showcase for his particular vocal qualities. A big movie musical medley was bubbly and fun and engaging, but not as much so as his Act 2 entrance decked out in gold lame to do a little Peter Allen tribute. Still, though, if it weren't for his peculiar blend of star quality and humility (real or imagined), none of it would register as big as it does. Bottom line: he just always looks so fucking happy. So yeah...that's infectious. There's no depth to the show, but sometimes a night of candy coated entertainment is just fine too.